Phone Calls Gone Wrong

Clarisse Loughrey

Opening in cinemas this week is Compliance, a chilling piece of cinema which dramatises the disturbing true-life experience of a young fast food chain employee terrorised by a prank caller posing as a police officer. It's just the kind of movie that might make you question our reliance, as a society, on the telephone as a major form of communication. Can you really have total faith in a voice without a face attached to it? That said, all I ever get are texts from pizza delivery chains reminding me to buy pizza. At least that saves me from the likes of these cinematic phone calls gone wrong...

1. When a Stranger Calls (Fred Walton, 1979)

It's the phone call of every babysitter's nightmares. Since it's based on one of those classic urban legends that keep tweens from sleeping soundly at night, you'll know the plot of When a Stranger Calls whether or not you've actually seen the film. A babysitter is terrorised by mysterious phone calls asking her to "check on the children". She eventually phones the police, who trace the call, only to discover the calls are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE. Cue everyone wetting their pants with fear. 

2. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) 

I don't think I'd want Philip Seymour Hoffman on the other end of the phone in any situation. The man is a force of nature. A force of nature which is especially terrifying and destructive when encouraged by Paul Thomas Anderson. 

3. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)  

There's a lot to pick from in this movie for telephone-based abuse. I mean, I know Ferris Bueller is like the coolest guy ever, but I've always felt pretty bad for Cameron. The guy seems really, really sick and the last thing he needed was to be guilt-tripped into stuff like posing as Sloane's father on the phone. No wonder the guy gets flustered, his brain is already preoccupied with fighting the evil forces of disease, Ferris. Imagine the beautiful day of sleep and chicken soup Cameron could have had if he just unplugged the phone. Ferris Bueller isn't a comedy, it's a tragedy.

4. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)  

Although it's difficult to pick out any singular moment from Kubrick's satirical work of genius, this scene is definitely noteworthy for being so beautifully, beautifully awkward. It's an entire global political crisis condensed into one of the most terribly human moments of trying to conduct a polite phone conversation. Now, limiting the entire scene to only one side of the conversation? A perfect move. 

5. Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996) 

Considering all the wonders of technology telephones can offer us these days, why, for the love of God, can you still not delete a voicemail message after you've made it? Put into consideration the amount of movies where people will go to the length of breaking into a house just to delete an ill-judged voicemail. Add to that this pathetic scene of male desperation as Jon Favreau's Mike Peters, still a wreck from breaking up with his long-term girlfriend, attempts to leave a message on another woman's answering machine and...I just think voicemail is the worst, OK?

6. Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)  

Yeah, so on top of all the social faux pas and general creepiness that might be commited while on the phone, there's also the chance the person on the other end was only phoning you to distract you so you could be murdered. DEAR GOD. That's it, I'm only contactable through letter-writing from now on. 

7. The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)  

Urgh. You know a phone call's gone really wrong when it becomes a metaphor for the isolation and oppression of surburban America. Coppola not only nailed the themes of Jeffrey Eugenides' startling and haunting novel in just this one simple scene, but she (as she always does) managed to centre it around a bangin' soundtrack. 

8. Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997)   

Ninety per cent of things that happen in David Lynch movies would best be avoided in real life, and this is definitely one of them. You have to remember that what precedes this bizarre scene is poor Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) seeing this guy's pale, unnerving face instead of his girlfriend's face mid-coitus. Then this guy turns up at the club while still being on the other end of the phone at Fred's house? This is like when you phone your own phone number, but times a million in weirdness.

9. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)  

Although in the context of the entirety of Polanski's terrifying masterpiece Rosemary's Baby, this is probably one of Rosemary's more chilled moments (I mean, at least compared to the whole "what have you done to its eyes?" scene), but it doesn't stop her from feeling pretty edgy. I'm gonna have to question her choice of fake conversation topics though: "Oh really? Did he really say that? Oh, he didn't say that. What else was it that he said?" Do you think that was scripted or is this just the limit of Mia Farrow's improv skills?

10. Birdemic: Shock and Terror (James Nguyen, 2010)  

I don't even know where to begin with Birdemic. If you've never seen this trash-tastic movie, it's basically the second-in-line to the throne of terrible movies behind The Room. And I'm assuming it's not that difficult to figure out why just from watching this clip. This is possibly the worst conversation ever conducted on the phone. Without ruining the fun of discovering everything wrong with this brief scene for yourself, let me at least just point out how that guy totally mispronounces 'Vietnamese'.

BONUS: Ransom (1996)

'GIVE ME BACK MY SON' was just begging for a dance remix. 

Follow Clarisse on Twitter: @clarisselou 

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